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April 19, 2013

Poll: Public pessimism on economy is increasing

WASHINGTON — For the third year in a row, the nation's economic recovery has hit a springtime soft spot. Reflecting that weakness, only 1 in 4 Americans now expects his or her own financial situation to improve over the next year, a new Associated Press-GfK poll shows.

The sour mood is undermining support for President Barack Obama's economic stewardship and for government in general.

The poll shows that just 46 percent of Americans approve of Obama's handling of the economy while 52 percent disapprove. That's a negative turn from an even split last September — ahead of Obama's November re-election victory — when 49 percent approved and 48 percent disapproved.

Just 7 percent of Americans said they trust the government in Washington to do what is right "just about always," the AP-GfK poll found. Fourteen percent trust it "most" of the time and two-thirds trust the federal government just "some of the time"; 11 percent say they never do.

The downbeat public attitudes registered in the survey coincide with several dour economic reports showing recent slowdowns in gains in hiring, consumer retail spending, manufacturing activity and economic growth. Automatic government spending cuts, which are starting to kick in, also may be contributing to the current sluggishness and increased wariness on the part of both shoppers and employers.

Overall, 25 percent of those in the poll describe the nation's economy as good, 59 percent as poor — similar to a January AP-GfK poll.

Respondents split on whether this was a "good time" to make major purchases such as furniture and electronic devices, with 31 percent agreeing it was, 38 percent calling it a "bad time" and 25 percent remaining neutral.

The economy's recovery from the severe 2007-2009 recession has been slow and uneven. Even so, most economic forecasts see continued economic growth ahead, even if it is sluggish and accompanied by only slowly improving levels of joblessness. Another recession in the near future is not being forecast.

In the new poll, few say they saw much improvement in the economy in the last month. Just 21 percent say things have gotten better, 17 percent say they've gotten worse and 60 percent thought the economy "stayed about the same." And the public is split on whether things will get better anytime soon, with 31 percent saying the national economy will improve in the next year, 33 percent saying it will hold steady and 33 percent saying it will get worse. Further, about 4 in 10 expect the nation's unemployment rate to climb in the next year.

And the public's outlook for its own financial future is at its worst point in three years. Just 26 percent think their household economic well-being will improve over the next year, 50 percent think it will stay the same and 22 percent expect it to worsen.

About 27 percent of those with incomes under $50,000 are the most likely to expect things for them personally to get worse in the next year compared with fewer than 2 in 10 among those with higher incomes.

Democrats, who typically rate the economy better under the present Democratic president than do Republicans, have become less optimistic about their financial prospects since January. Then, 41 percent of Democrats thought their finances would improve in the next year while only 30 percent feel that way now.

Jeremy Hammond, 33, of Queensbury, N.Y., a Web programmer, says Congress should focus on "the incredible debt and lack of spending control." For instance, he said, it's absurd for Congress to try to force the Postal Service to continue Saturday mail delivery — an effort that has so far failed — when the agency says, "We can't afford it.' Hammond, who considers himself a political independent, said he voted for Obama in 2008 but not in 2012.

Obama's overall job approval in the poll is at its lowest point since his re-election, at 50 percent, with 47 percent disapproving. His approval among Republicans is just 10 percent; among independents, 49 percent disapprove.

But, if it's any solace to the president and his supporters, Congress fared even worse. Thirty-seven percent approve of the performance of congressional Democrats, while 57 percent disapprove. For congressional Republicans, 27 percent approved of their performance and 67 percent disapproved.

The Associated Press-GfK Poll was conducted April 11-15 by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications. It involved landline and cellphone interviews with 1,004 adults nationwide. Results for the full sample have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.9 percentage points. It is larger for subgroups.

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